Leonie Rysanek, Soprano (1926-1998)
Ludwig van Beethoven FIDELIO
Abscheulicher, wo eilst du hin?
Conducted by Eugen Jochum
Recorded live 1957 in Rome for RAI
My personal opinion: Unsuspecting I bought years ago the Konwitschny version of DER FLIEGENDE HOLLAENDER with Fischer-Dieskau and the rare combination of Schock and Wunderlich united in one recording. I got used to Fischer-Dieskau's balladic title character, but agonized by the sharp, shrill and dreadful Marianne Schech as Senta, I needed urgent recovery. Fortunately there was Leonie Rysanek in the Dorati version to heal me. Although the recording was criticized many times because of the conductor's slow tempi, Rysanek's Senta is dreamy, introverted and marked by a premonition of what is to come. Whereas my favorite Senta is Anja Silja, Rysanek's interpretation is one of the most satisfying at all. But no Rysanek recording has ever quite duplicated the excitement the soprano triggered in a theater.
The voice of the 1926 Vienna born Leonie Rysanek was only one part of her splendid stage presence that was characterized by a close interaction of singing and performing. After her Met farewell in 1996 as the old Contess in Tchaikovsky's THE QUEEN OF SPADES, James Levine said: "She had a fire burning in her at all times. It's remarkable for someone to combine such an intensity with a voice of such resiliency and range, and somehow there was a very womanly and soft-textured quality in Leonie's singing, even in its most forceful moments."
On February 5, 1959, Rysanek replaced Callas - just fired by Bing - as Lady MacBeth at the Met. On this understanding it was a great risk, although she had already sung the terrifying role in San Francisco. Bing: "She did indeed rise to the occasion with a splendid performance, the first of many." And in 'Variety' one could read: "Seldom was a soprano, especially on a debut, so dramatically." Rysanek's success led to the RCA studio production of MACBETH with Warren and Bergonzi. The pleasure thereon was not unclouded for english music critic J. B. Steane: "Her tone often leaves one dissatisfied on disc as it does not in the theater." Rysanek: "I've never enjoyed making recordings. I need the stage and the live atmosphere!" This seems to be a love letter to her faithful audience, or was it probably an attempt to hide the fact that recordings reveal some weak points?
As a matter of fact, Rysanek's vocal palette of colors was limited - always convincing her technical skills, surprising the lack of individuality. A studio seemed to be a straightjacket for the soprano. With her many live recordings we encounter a liberated performer: Impulsive, passionate and full of fervor. Only on stage her characters awakened to full life. "I always feel I deceive myself and the public, if I not try to give a great show...", she said, and she knew, she never was a suitable performer for cute young girls (à la Mozart).
Just like Maria Callas she was made for tragic heroines, and the operas of Richard Strauss were in the center of her activities. Her most performed figure was the Emperess in DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN, a role she had sung almost 120 times all over the world during a period of nearly three decades. Even if you are among those who reject the music of Strauss (Paul Brekker after the 1919 premiere: "What a boring opera..."), you can't escape the tragic magic of Rysanek's singing in the beginning of Act 1, the dialog between the Empress and her demonic nurse in the falcon-scene. Amazing also the monolog of Act 3 with the petrified Emperor and the final scene with the voices of the unborn children. With her sumptuous vocal material on the threshold of the highly dramatic, fitted with a rich upper register and god-given endurance, Leonie Rysanek was "...simply born to sing Strauss", said Karl Böhm, who conducted the legendary 1955 DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN.
In 1986, Leonie Rysanek was asked by Bruce Duffie: "What do you expect of an audience that comes to see your performance?" She replied: "That they like me. It's not important what critics write about me. As long as the audience like me, I go on, and I promise, I will stop if I feel the voice is gone." Almost 30 years ago a reviewer prognosticated, that one day with the soprano's farewell an era will come to an end. The name Leonie Rysanek was a synonym for reliability and longevity in the dramatic Fach, perhaps only comparable to Birgit Nilsson. And her name was also a synonym for a love affair between a singer and an audience - an affair, that lasted nearly half a century...
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